Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over gambling, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 1, Exercise 2: Moving Toward Acceptance
THE CYCLE OF UNMANAGEABILITY. We think, “It will be different next casino visit, next poker game, next bet.” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Below are some cyclic behaviours that may be familiar to you:
In Our Gambling
Chase wins/emotional highs
Try to recoup losses
Chase wins/emotional highs
In Our Lives
Need to escape/need time out
Need to escape/need time out
ILLUSTRATE THE PROGRESSIVE NATURE OF YOUR ADDICTION. Documenting the progression of the illness can help us prove to ourselves just how powerless we are over it. Write about specific examples from your life that illustrate how your addiction escalated, and how each attempt at controlling it failed.
The first time I could put my finger on when my gambling changed was the first day of the 2008/2009 football season. I’d been working full time for about 3 years and my gambling was still “under control”, well, at least I thought it was at the time. My stakes were still low and I was basically doing football bets at the weekend for a bit of fun. I gambled, but it wasn’t causing me any issues. It wasn’t the most important thing in the world to me, it was just something I enjoyed doing. That Friday I walked into a bookmaker near my work and decided instead of placing a load of stupid football bets for the small stakes I had been doing, I would pick three teams for the season and do a treble each week for the total amount I would normally stake. Sheffield United, Leicester City and Leeds United were the picks. Of course, the first weekend it landed (the only time it landed all season I think) and my betting changed from that moment. I genuinely can’t remember the odds but I was staking about 10 times my normal stake and from that point on placing bets at small stakes just wasn’t appealing anymore. What was the point in that when I could stake more money and win more? From that moment my gambling started to get out of control over time. Soon after came the loans, the credit cards and then, the payday loans.
Speaking of credit cards, before I had kids, I remember one night getting a credit increase on one of my credit cards when my partner was out. It wasn’t a small sum of money either, for me anyways. It doubled what the limit was on the card. Anyways, once I was approved for the credit increase I went straight to the cash machine in town and took a cash advance. knew my partner would be out for most of the night so I went into the bookmakers to just do a couple of bets. The first few lost so I went back to the cash machine for another cash advance and back into the bookmakers. I lost again. Rinse and repeat. My bets were getting bigger and I was losing more and more money. Anytime I won, I’d just put it back on. I spent the whole night in the bookmakers until they closed and gambled away the whole credit increase. At the time I remember thinking this was totally out of character, totally out of the blue but it wasn’t. My addiction was slowly getting more and more progressive and this situation started to become more and more of a regular occurrence.
When I look back at my gambling “career” I can see a clear progression in my addiction. When I started out gambling I would bet here and there on various events but mainly it was a weekend thing. I would set an amount I was willing to gamble, put the bets on and win or lose, go about my business afterwards and not gamble until the following week. Then, once I started to get the taste for it, I would find myself gambling a little bit more than just the weekend. I found myself going to the bookmakers during my lunch hour at work. What was a Friday trip became a Wednesday and Friday trip. Then it escalated until I was going every lunchtime. I was going to place bets for that evening but I started gambling on the South African horse racing that was on the bookmakers when I was there. Either that or greyhound racing. I found myself starting to lose track of how much I was spending. It was still within my disposable income but it was starting to eat into money for other things, such as going out with friends. This would then lead me to borrowing money to allow me to still go out and socialise with my friends. At this stage I was gambling more and more online but still going to the bookmakers at lunchtime. It wasn’t long before I was gambling money meant for bills, which I didn’t have a lot of as I was still living at home at this stage, and borrowing more money to cover this. My level of debt had escalated but I didn’t really care. I got a few consolidation loans but I just kept gambling more and borrowing more. By the time I was living with my partner and we had our son my debts had been defaulted on and I was setting up Debt Management Plans but I eventually stopped paying it as well. I was pretty much exclusively gambling online by this stage and this level of gambling continued for a good few years with periods of me “stopping” to try and control it. I never stayed stopped for long and would always go back. The last few years of my gambling escalated to where I was gambling more and more money meant for bills and having to borrow money off friends and family because my credit rating was destroyed. By the end it had escalated to the point I gambled most of my salary before the 1st of the month. This was when I finally admitted I had a gambling problem and needed help. It took my addiction 14 years to progress to that level and there was still further it could go. The next stage would have been to gamble the rent money and the food money. Then I would have been found out. Maybe that wouldn’t have been enough to get me into recovery. I would have lost my kids and my partner, living on my own. If that wasn’t enough to get me into recovery then it only left three options, prison, insanity or death.
THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL OVER OUR GAMBLING. What behaviours, choices or actions perpetrated your illusions that you had some control over the outcome of your playing or betting? What were the results of these proofs that you were in control?
When I gambled in-play on sports I followed along either by watching a live stream or watching the little graphic that the bookmakers provided showing the action. I believed that I had to follow along for my bet to win. If I wasn’t watching then my bet wouldn’t win. I took this one step further by beginning to believe I needed to be somewhere in particular for my bets to win. In work this tended to be a disabled toilet. I would bet on a goal in the 1st half of a soccer game and with 10 minutes remaining of the half I would head to the toilet to watch the rest of the half. It was the goal throne. Of course it didn’t make a difference to the outcome of the game but in my head it would be the difference in winning and losing.
At home I would have the bookmakers website on my Chromebook following along with whatever I was betting on. If it was a live stream I would have to figure a way to hide the score on the betting site as it was a few seconds ahead of the stream provided by the bookmaker. In my head if I saw the score it would always go against me, which of course was nonsense.
I would also get frustrated when I was gambling and my friends were sending messages into our group chat. On more than one occasion I muted the groups because I believed that their messages were the reason my bet was losing. I got angry with them, would yell and scream in the house for them to fuck off. They weren’t influencing my gambling, but I was not only blaming them, I was also drifting further away from them as well.
If I was placing a bet on horse racing or soccer or whatever, and it was an accumulator, I had to put the selections into the bet slip in date and time order from the earliest to the latest. There were times I had to empty my bet slip and start again because I had messed up the order and felt like if I didn’t fix it the bet wouldn’t win. It normally didn’t win anyways.
Finally, if I had looked at a bet and the price changed before I decided to place my bet, then I’d do one of two things depending on how the odds moved. If the odds shortened, I would put more money on it as it was a sign that it was going to win. If the odds lengthened, I would put what I would have put on it because it was a sign that it was going to win. Either way, I took it as a sign that the gambling gods were favourably looking down on me. Usually, they were not.
THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL OVER OUR ADDICTION. What gambling-related behaviours (e.g. limiting casino visits, never using credit cards, limiting ATM use, leaving with winnings, big shot behaviour) perpetuated your illusions of control over your growing obsession? What were the results of these proofs that you were in control?
Over the years I have self excluded from various online bookies for varying lengths of time. One that sticks out in my mind is when I self excluded for five years from my favourite bookie. It was around 2013 and around the time my partner found out I had taken money from our savings account to gamble. The self exclusion felt like a good idea for a few weeks and then I regretted my decision. I started gambling with other companies and I literally counted down the months until I could reopen this account. To me this proves that I was beyond the normal “responsible gambling” measures that bookmakers have to try and prevent people becoming compulsive gamblers. I was well past that point by this stage.
Despite admitting that I self excluded from places on occasion, I never really tried to control my gambling because I didn’t feel like I ever had a problem. The times I self excluded or stopped for periods of time were generally due to either money issues and realising that I needed to stop before my partner would ask questions or I would sometimes take a break over the summer as I wasn’t overly keen on flat racing (although I gambled on it enough) and the soccer was normally on a break as was the NFL. Stopping so my partner wouldn’t find out was, at least in my head at the time, because I was scared she would tell me to stop betting and I didn’t want to. Not because I was addicted of course, but because I loved it and she just wouldn’t understand that I was just having fun. After all, it was my money and it was just a hobby, so I thought.
One of the big illusions of control was probably when I started matched betting. Now, those two words would strike fear into a bookmakers heart as it is a can’t lose proposition. I was making money, “risk free”, from bookmaker offers and for a while it went well. My addition was controlled, somewhat. It wouldn’t take long before I would get bored waiting for offers and the small sums of money I was winning and I needed to start and take more risks. Matched betting was really what introduced me to the casino side of online gambling. I had dabbled here and there with it over the years but it never grabbed me. It wasn’t until I started matched betting that I saw how quickly you could win big amounts of money playing the casino vs sports. Of course, you lost the money quicker as well, but that wasn’t as important a point for my brain to take in. So I went from allegedly controlling my gambling to losing the biggest amount I ever lost in a session all because I started playing the casino. I also became a VIP with a bookmaker which meant I was staking more money and really it just spiralled even further out of control.
Towards the end I did make a solid attempt to control one part of my betting, the casino side of things, because that is where I felt my problems lay. It wasn’t the sports betting, it was fine (it fucking wasn’t), it was the casino. So I joined the Reddit Problem Gambling Sub under an alias and posted shite for a while about how I was stopping gambling which was nonsense. I was still gambling on sports. I feel like I did curb my online casino gambling over this period of time but my sports betting just took off even further than it already had. I wasn’t truly addressing the problem, I was just lying to myself but I do feel like this was the first time I was probably looking at my gambling as a potential problem. Still wasn’t fully there yet, but it was the first step.
THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. What behaviours or actions (e.g. attempting to control other people or events, if/then thinking) perpetuate your illusion of control over outcomes in your everyday life? What are the results of these “proofs” that you are in control?
There is a scene in Lego Batman where he holds up his good ideas tracker and it says Batman 5,678,483 and everybody else, 0 and says “no one else has ever had any good ideas, so don’t even try.” That has been me for as long as I can remember and if I’m being honest is still me at times today, but when I was gambling I didn’t give a fuck what idea someone else had because I knew it would be shit. I tried to control everybody and everything around me so I could try and keep everything as it was. I wanted that because as things stood, I was able to gamble everyday, as long as I had money. I didn’t care about what my partner wanted, my kids, my parents or my friends. I just cared about me and what I wanted and that of course, was to gamble.
It went deeper than just trying to control the direction of what was going on around me though. I would also manipulate the situation to try and ensure I got the outcome that I wanted. That was how I managed to keep my gambling hidden for so long because I manipulated those closest to me into believing that I was some sort of saintly father working two jobs to provide for his family and with no social life. That I was doing all the right things for my family. Was I fuck. I was doing what was right for me and if I could keep my family sweet along the way that was just a bonus. I’d manipulate my friends into lending me money so I could cover the damage I had done each month with the gambling. I would borrow money off my parents for the same reason and one incident sticks out more than most. I went round, cap in hand, and asked to borrow money from them as we were decorating our living room and I had promised to pay for it. I went round with some bullshit excuse about how I made a mistake matched betting and lost the money and could I borrow it and please don’t tell my partner. When I came clean about my addiction this incident was brought up by my Dad. At the time I asked for the money, my Granda (on my Dad’s side) was extremely ill and because of this my Dad wasn’t really thinking straight and agreed to lend me it and not tell my partner without really asking any questions. It was only then that I realised how much I had manipulated him. I took advantage of my own Dad, who would have helped me out any way he could if I was honest with him but instead I was comfortable lying to his face while he was going through that. That’s the scary thing about this addiction, how it makes you extremely comfortable in situations any decent human being would find extremely uncomfortable.
When it comes to if/then thinking I was the master of that because every week without fail I would be doing that sort of thinking by writing out a budget. It felt like every week there was a new budget, sometimes everyday, where I would plan out, not just the remainder of the month, but the next month and the one after that. I would do budgets for a full calendar year basically saying IF I win £x a month THEN I will be debt free and sorted by x date. What I didn’t get was that the amounts each time I did a budget got more and more unrealistic. Now, without bigging myself up to much, I’m not a stupid bastard. I would like to think I’m fairly intelligent and anyone with half a brain cell could have looked at my budgets and said “no chance mate, you are wasting your time”. Which, to be fair, I was.
LETTING GO. We cling to the illusion (or expectation) that we can (or should be able to) control our gambling. WE MUST LET IT GO. The truth is, we are powerless over the addiction. It controls us. It will continue to control us until we surrender.